Monday, November 8, 2010

Rep. Trent Franks Strongly Urges President Obama to Confront India's Government over Ongoing Policy of Visa Denial


November 6, 2010 – Congressman Trent Franks (AZ-02) gave the following statement today as President Obama begins his ten-day trip through Asia beginning with a visit for several days in India. Just last week, the Indian Embassy refused to grant visas to a member of Congressman Franks' staff as well as to another sitting Member of Congress, who were told that their visas had been placed on "indefinite hold." The Congressional delegation had sought entry to the country for the purpose of attending a ceremony commemorating the work of an organization dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating drug addicts, AIDS-infected orphans, and victims of sex trafficking.

"In recent weeks and months, the Indian Embassy and government have increasingly implemented a policy of denying visas to groups and government delegations, including a fellow Member of Congress and a member of my staff, who have sought to travel to the country for the purpose of advocating for human rights, particularly for the victims of the grotesque epidemic of sex trafficking. As a valued ally and a growing partner in trade, it is distressing that the Indian Embassy and government would openly thwart U.S. groups’ attempts to travel to the country to work together in addressing a growing problem and a common threat to the shared values of our two nations— sex trafficking as well as other fundamental human rights violations."

The recent denial is not the first instance of the Indian government denying entry to government delegations or human rights advocacy organizations. In June of 2009, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom was denied visas for its proposed visit to assess India's human rights situation and it was not offered alternative travel dates. Another private human rights advocacy organization was later also denied entry. Additionally, on November 1st, 2010, Professor Richard Shapiro, Chair and Associate Professor of the Department of Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco, was denied entry indefinitely by the Immigration Authorities in New Delhi. Professor Shapiro's wife, Angana Chatterji, who is the Co-convener of the International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) and also Professor ofAnthropology at CIIS, has reportedly experienced repeated harassment in India for her work on human rights.

Taken collectively, these incidents show a concerning and growing disdain on the part of the Indian government for working with its key allies to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens and to address the growing problem of sex trafficking and other human rights violations within India’s borders.

"These actions on behalf of the government of India call into question the sincerity of its commitment to eliminating the scourge of human trafficking and its willingness to have its human rights conditions assessed." Franks stated. "It also makes India's call for the U.S. government to extend more visas to Indian citizens ironic in light of its own repeated denials to American citizens, U.S. government organizations, and Members of the United States Congress."

"Furthermore, should President Obama fail to address this critical issue during his extended stay in India while prioritizing issues relating to our international trade policies with India, he will fail his responsibility as President to speak forcefully in defense of human rights and forfeit a prime opportunity with a key ally to reaffirm the United States' unwavering commitment to the dignity of every human person.

"President Obama has himself stated that 'If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.' I strongly urge the President to live up to his own words and address the issue of these visa denials during his meetings with Indian state officials."

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